Years ago a song by TR Ritchie stopped me in my tracks. The words of “Whitebark” can still bring me to tears.
I’ve weathered storms I cannot count
To make this world my home
In a place where small and twisted things
Can split the hardest stone
When I photographed these trees around Oakland, California’s Lake Merritt, I could hear the song. I was still reeling from the end of a marriage, and although I was thrilled to be starting a fascinating new job, I was lost. I had changed countries to take the job, back to a land I had been away from so long it was no longer home, to a new city where I was a stranger.
It isn’t only our outward forms that can be twisted. So can our spirits. Mine was a pretzel I didn’t think would ever straighten.
These twisted trees gave me hope. Their winding trunks invited lovers to sit under the shade of their canopies. Travelers leaned against them to be photographed. Children climbed them. They were more mysterious and alluring than their straight-grained neighbours.
I returned to them over and over in the fifteen months I lived in Oakland, each time drawing strength from their twisted forms. They helped me remember that the kinks and swirls and broken places of our lives can turn out to be gifts, once we move past their sharp edges.
When I was young, I used to say I wanted to live in a way that would give me good stories for my rocking-chair years. I didn’t understand then that what makes the stories interesting is often what makes them hardest while we’re living them.
We are all, in our own ways, small and twisted things, but we can split the hardest stone.
(You can listen to “Whitebark” on TR Ritchie’s Web site and download his fine songs on iTunes.)